Monday, April 26, 2010
This quiet but eerie introduction to Trond Sandler's return to a place he spent the summer as a youth sets the tone and establishes the beautiful prose that Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson uses in telling an universal story of family and loss -- the innocence of childhood fully blasted by the anguish of understanding.
Now sixty-seven, Trond , three years after the death of his second wife, moves from the city of Oslo to a remote cabin along a riverside in a small community on the northeastern edge of Norway.
At this idyllic spot on a river, Trond reminisces about the summer he was fifteen. It was 1948; and even though the German occupation still cast its evil shadow, Trond and his father leave his sister and mother in Oslo and spend the summer in a remote small town working the land for a local farmer as well as independently moving timber down river to Sweden.
The cabin that he and his dad rent is the same one that Trond now lives in with the intent of fixing it up and living out his last days.
Even though Petterson's story is not a new one, his prose makes it seem original and refreshing -- the importance of not just telling a story, but telling it well -- the laying out of each sentence as important -- not just a means to an end... or perhaps, he just understands the power of diction. :)
In Out Stealing Horses, Petterson flips back and forth between past and present with Trond's story -- with seamless chronology.
The sixty-seven year old Trond relates how "Time is important to me now, I tell myself. Not that it should pass quickly or slowly, but be only time, be something I live inside and fill with physical things and activities that I can divide it up by, so that it grows distinct to me and does not vanish when I am not looking."
"So the feeling of pleasure slips into a feeling that time has passed, that it is very long ago, and the sudden feeling of being old."
After the death of his second wife and sister, Trond explains his reason for his move: "After they were gone I lost interest in talking to people. I really do not know what to talk to them about. That is one reason for living here. Another reason is being close to the forest. It was a part of my life many years ago in a way that nothing later has been, and then it was absent for a very long time, and when everything around me suddenly turned silent, I realized how much I had missed it."
When a tragedy strikes the young son of a nearby family, it is the fifteen-year old voice of Trond telling of the trip by boat back upriver with his father and his thinking of what had happened: "... I thought about how it must feel to lose your life so early. Lose your life, as if you held an egg in your hand, and then dropped it, and it fell to the ground and broke, and I knew it could not feel like anything at all. If you were dead, you were dead, but in the fraction of a second just before; whether you realised it was the end, and what that felt like. There was a narrow opening there, like a door barely ajar..."
"In one instant everything was changed and destroyed."
That's the language, mesmerizing in its simplicity but striking in its truth, that Petterson pens as he tells this story.
Petterson's story of Trond is nothing new -- no new ground is broken, but the same ground walked upon again with a different set of feet --- "when I sit here now, in the kitchen of the old house I have planned to make into a livable place in the years left in me.. I look back to that time, I see how each movement through the landscape took color from what came afterwards and cannot be separated from it. And when someone says the past is a foreign country, that they do things differently there, then I have probably felt that way most of my life because I have been obliged to, but I am not any more. If I just concentrate, I can walk into memory's store and find the right shelf with the right film and disappear into it..."
Petterson reminds me of Faulkner --it's the cadence of his writing. He tells a good story -- and it's not really the story itself that's memorable -- it's the way it's told.
The memory, as the saying goes, is in the telling.
ETA: I added the map for your edification --- yo, Wingate? Did you know how far north those darn Nazis came?
Friday, April 23, 2010
Stunned birds -- and sometimes, dead ones.
Jim, our vet friends, says, "Birds aren't smart. They hit it hard, and they go all stupid. They lie there and think ... wham! My beak. My beak. My feet. My feet. What was that? It smarts. It hurts...I don't think I can move! I'm dead. Argh. Argh. and then something startles them, they freak out, and they are surprised that they can fly. Birds aren't smart."
Flying into the doors or windows happens all the time here at my house because we have one full view door on the front and one on the back.
We also have nine thousand bird feeders -- so it's like we are begging for extreme, bird air sports.
This morning, as I am having my coffee, THWACK! A bird hits the front door. Then I hear Keats pawing the door like the house is on fire.
I go to the front door, and "sure nuff," a bird liess on the door mat, breathing, but opening and closing its eyes.
Keats is all puffed up and making this little snorting noise.
Me: No, Keats. It's not fair to get a bird when its down.
Keats: Stupid human. Stupid rules. Stupid ethics. There are no rules. Bird is down. Free chow. Bird meat. Bird meat. Hot Wings! Bird down. Easy prey. Let me at it.
Me: You don't even go outside. You have never eaten a bird.
Keats: Have too! Have too! Have too!
Me: Oh, look, it's so scared.
Keats: Even better. Scared birds. Stupid Birds! Not smart enough to be scared.
Me: I'm gonna get the camera and take a picture.
Keats: Argh. You can't eat a picture. I need this bird. Birrrrd. My bird. Birrrdd.
Aside: For some reason, this reminds me of Flannery O'Connor.
While I go to get the camera and tell David he'll need to save the bird, Tallulah comes to see what the fuss is all about. Tallulah spends her mornings in the back of the house with David, who tirelessly throws her paper wads, and then while he's getting dressed, she likes to chase his belt.
Tallulah circles the foyer, sits down for a moment, and tries to see where Keats is looking.
Keats: My bird. My bird. My bird.
Tallulah: That bird ain't moving.
Keats: My bird. My house. My front door. My bird. Back off, Red.
Tallulah: *yawns* It ain't moving. What fun is that?
Keats: Bird fun. Bird fun. Eat.
Tallulah: Not interested. I want it to move. Move. Bird. Move.
Keats: *hisses* Go chase a paper wad, dummy.
Tallulah walks off.
David agrees to rescue the bird before he leaves for work, but he tells me that when the bird is ready, it will move.
Me: What about Stumpy and Lumpy?
Me: The cats across the street who trespass over here, hang out around the bird feeders, hoping for a score, mock Keats through the door for being an inside cat, and spray on our porch. They are Cat Thugs.
David: What? How do you know their names?
Me: I don't; Keats and I call them that since one of them limps and the other needs to be on the Biggest Loser. They are always in the yard. We know. We're here.
David: You need to go back to teaching.
Me: Bite your tongue. I'm saving the world, one bird at a time.
David: Okay. Okay. I'll rescue the bird.
So, while Keats kept watch, David walked around to the front, with his bird handling gloves, and tried to lift the bird from the porch (you know out of the way of Stumpy and Lumpy). Startled by David's touch, it flitted like a drunk around the porch and then flew into the woods.
Keats: Man. Humans are so lame. That was my bird. My bird.
Keats: I gotta throw up. *licks paws* I think I saw them wash the bathroom rugs today. *heads for bathroom*
Thursday, April 22, 2010
For the second time, I gave a listen to a writer whom I knew nothing about, but when I called to make my reservation, the owner said, "She's a hoot. You'll love her."
Kathy was right. This writer was different .... and in a good way.
Kathy runs the Book Exchange, and she met us at the front (there was no one else there at 6:45) laughing and said, "we're in the back gabbing -- get you a seat and something to eat."
I looked around -- there were twenty chairs and no one was in them. I grabbed one about four rows back and set off to the back to take advantage of the food ---- a ham and cheese on a Sister Schubert roll and a nice thick piece of banana bread with cream cheese smeared from side to side. I chased it with a Diet Coke.
Bubbly and quirky, Kathy operates her book nook in this old run-down shopping center -- nearby is a laundromat and a tag office -- I doubt that either brings in the book worm.
I wonder how she makes a go of it -- I hope it's through loyal customers because Kathy brings not only local writers in to her "exchange," but also writers like Zacharias, who lives in Oregon -- even though she was originally from the South.
Whatever you do and however you do it, Kathy, keep it up! Just keep it legal. :)
On a blog from last July, I described the Book Exchange as one of those great independent book stores --[I'm afraid there aren't many left --- ;( ] where the owner works there, knows books, and can find anything you ask for ---- festive with lights and bookcases from floor to ceiling, the store smells and feels like you want to pull up a comfortable chair and get lost in a book.
By the time for Zacharias to speak, there were about fifteen people sitting in the folding chairs and munching on the free snacks.... not much of a crowd for a writer, I didn't think, but maybe Zacharais doesn't care.
When Kathy stood up to introduce her, she flipped through her notes and swore, "Lord love a duck, I've lost my place."
Lord, love a duck?
Lord love a duck?
Not a saying I'm familiar with..... LOL .. but since we were about to hear from a writer, who was a Christian, "Lord, love a duck" or "Lord love a duck" is a pretty appropriate segue.
Kathy introduced Karen Spears Zacharias, [but I didn't take good notes] so the following blurb comes from her website:
"Christian Humorist Karen Spears Zacharias had her first kiss in a trailer, smoked her first and last cigarette in a trailer, asked Jesus into her heart on bended knee in a trailer, fell madly in love in a trailer (a couple of different times), and gave birth to her firstborn child in a trailer."
"Karen is a former crime beat reporter, wife, mom, Tennessee Volunteer, Georgia Peach, Beaver graduate of Oregon State University, sister in faith, water moccasin bite survivor and 25th Infantry Gold Star daughter. Her commentary has been featured in the New York Times, Newsweek, and National Public Radio. Karen and husband, Tim, plan to raise any grandchildren in a double-wide trailer with a plasma TV on an acre of land in Point Clear, Alabama."
Her latest book and the one she talked about at the Book Exchange is --- Will Jesus Buy Me a Double Wide (Cause I Need More Room for my Plasma TV)?
And once Zacharias began to talk, I wanted to listen.
She began the evening by saying she was a mess. She had just found out that her publisher and editor were the next victims of the economy. She said, "I cried all day and my makeup is gone. BUT, I'm here and so are you. So let's do it."
One of the first stories she told was about the idea she has for her next book, In Lieu of Flowers, Send Fried Chicken, which will be a collection of humorous obituaries that folks from all over the country have been sending her. She said that line actually appeared in an obituary in a small town newspaper.
She also told another story from an email about a man who cremated his wife and then because he didn't know where to put her ashes, spread them over the food that had been brought to the house after the memorial. The woman said the moral of the story is "Don't eat the funeral food unless you've seen the body."
She also told us that she had a different definition for the Second Coming.
She said, "The second coming is when a broadcast journalist says, "I've read your book." Since she has traveled from place to place on book tours, she says that the journalists who are sent to interview her never read her book -- "unless it's moving, they haven't seen it."
She laughed when she said it because she said, "I was a journalist, I know."
The idea for her current book mixes with a little bit of her past. When she was nine years old, her father was killed in Vietnam. She said on that day, "I lost not only my father, but my mother." Prior to her father's death, her mother had been a devoted Christian -- she said afterward, she was a twenty-eight year old widow with four children, and that her mother looked for community.
"After the flag was folded, I was in a new life," she noted.
There was no "program" at the local church for such a young widow, and women there even suspected her of hunting for a husband, perhaps theirs, so she found her community at the tavern.
When Karen was in her teens, a friend brought her to church -- and she became a Christian at fourteen after a trip to Six Flags. One of the kindly youth pastors sought her out, gave her Bible verses to read , and told her to read them when she got home. They "loved me to Jesus."
Her mother took the 10,000 dollar military insurance money and spent 6, 000 dollars on a trailer. The rest is Karen's story -- about how what she learned about faith was that "it wasn't gonna bring her Daddy back -- it wasn't gonna change her momma -- but it was nice to have Him to lean on."
The premise of her book -- Will Jesus Buy Me a Double Wide? -- is non-fiction. Zacharias traveled the United States and interviewed old and young, rich and poor, and examined how prosperity is connected to our faithfulness -- or put simply, God and money. The book is a collection of single stories titled simply, "The Lawyer," "The Marine," or "The Mogul," and with these stories she tries to delve into "What does it mean to have the favor of God? Can We Earn the Favor of God?"
Zacharias just makes observations and claims not to know the answers... but she sure has some interesting questions.
I haven't read the book -- but I bought one. Two reasons --- one -- to support Kathy -- but the second reason is that -- this is a book I can lend out -- my friends can read a story or two -- pass it on -- read the whole book, and pass it on -- regardless, Zacharias looks for authentic Christians -- and I'm curious to see if she found one.
ETA: In my book, Zacharias signed, "Live a good story." :)
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Yeah, that's what I said.
Walking friends defined means [in retirement jargon] -- "the people you walk with to keep from having a heart attack or stroke or other diseases caused by sitting down too much, also known as really large butt syndrome."
My walking friends are Debbie and Becky.
Debbie, one of the girls, had been twice to Sip and Strokes and kept telling Becky and me how much fun it was to be taught to paint -- one painting at a time. She said, "they provide a simple painting template like flowers, trees, wine glasses, a guitar, a girl in a dress, etc."
Debbie: Yes. You pay $25 -- they supply the template, the canvas, the paint, the smock, the brushes, and the place -- you just bring a little vino and snacks -- and a teacher will teach you to paint this one painting.
Me: I can't draw stick figures.
Debbie: Doesn't matter -- it's fun.
Me: I can do fun. I can't draw it, but I can do it.
So, we picked the night that the completed painting was of wine glasses.
We headed to east Cobb to "Sip and Strokes" and painted the night away with Darla, our art instructor. Eh. Her name could have been Dari. She was Russian -- had been here one year and spoke pretty fluent English. Could be she learned it in her motherland.
I dunno. However, when she called the walls of the building "construction," I was thinking it was good to be over here where we have walls.
And I want to call the place Sips and Strokes.
Anyway, here are the steps to walking away with a masterpiece, painted by you.
It's really hard -- so pay attention...
1. Pick up a brush.
2. Sip your wine. ( I had to practice that step -- man!)
3. Follow instructor.
4. Voila! Picasso.
Well, maybe more like Picasso when he was two, but you get the palate.
I have to admit that I was slightly nervous. It was like being in kindergarten with your easel up in front of you, and all your friends behind you and privy to your drawing.
You know the drawing we all did as kids on those stand up easels?
Well, I did them -- ultimately one of the art assignments in kindergarten was to draw your home and family.
I drew lollipop trees, flowers on steroids, stick figured parents and siblings with disproportionate feet, heads, and hands, and then something random in the yard like a balloon or a cow or a gigantic bluebird.
I did a mean "sun" -- a half circled yellow thing with death rays coming out of it.
Hey, it was the 60s -- that was before SPF 159 .
Come on, say you know that drawing.
I know you did one.
Anyway, at Sip and Strokes, and I dunno why I want to call it Sips and Strokes... LOL -- it took about two hours to come away with a completed painting.
At one point, you slip over to the side and dry your painting with a hair dryer. It speeds up the process -- this ain't the 18th century, you know.
I made friends too. A girl from two tables behind me came up and told me she liked my painting. I told her that she could buy it.
She didn't want it.
Her friends all came up and told me that I looked like I was having fun, and "come on" I had done this before.
Them: How did you know to bring wine?
Me: Uh, I mean, the place is called "sip" -- and "stroke" -- and I wasn't gonna drink my cleaning the brush water. Plus, Debbie -- [points to Debbie] had been before. You should always bring a pro to new experiences.
Them: Oh, I didn't think about that part.
One of the girls' name was Judy [I told you guys I make friends everywhere I go -- it's like a hobby --plus, I need blog readers] -- she did a slasher/horror movie kind of take on her painting.
When the instructor told us to write the names of wines on our paintings, everyone shivered.
Students of Sips: Write?
That part was like being back in the classroom. If I said, "write," students would have apoplexy. It was sort of like that -- but the wine medicated the blow.
Judy: I just was a little heavy handed.
Me: LOL -- it looks like a serial killer was passing notes. PINOT.. he screams at you PINOT. PINOT. [Vincent Price laughter]
Judy: Be nice.
Me: I'll put you on my blog.
Judy: Make sure you spell my name correctly.
Me: I got it. I see it on your painting. J-U-D-Y. Bwha.
Anyway, it was totally fun.
When I came home with my painting, David said, "You painted that?"
Me: Is that a compliment?
David: Did it have numbers on it?
Me: Not funny.
David: *coughs* I like it. I do.
David: Come on, tell me it had numbers.
Me: Get me a hammer and a big nail; I'm hanging this thing in the living room.
Becky, me, and Debbie.
Friday, April 16, 2010
I imagine that in fifty years, Quindlen will be one of the foremost writers of the late 20th and early 21st century. Not only is she a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, but she is the "first writer ever to have books appear on the fiction, nonfiction, and self help New York Times bestseller lists."
On our way into the bowels of Atlanta, the traffic wasn't bad, but once we exited to 14th street, it was "crack" traffic. Big SUVs blowing black smoke, cabs hovering at the curbs, harried policeman directing traffic from ridiculously tall office buildings, and then those of us from the "burbs" just trying to get to Taco Mac* and a book reading. :)
I knew that Atlanta had its own version of the Tea Party that day, but I'm thinking, these folks need to go back to Valdosta.
Marilyn: John (her husband) said he was stopping off at the Tea Party on his way home from work.
Me: Go John!
Marilyn: I think he's just looking for refreshments.
We ordered our tacos (I felt obligated), and then we headed across the street to the Margaret Mitchell Literature Center.
Since we ran a little late, most of the chairs in the center were full, and the ones on the left side faced a blinding sun reflecting off the glass building across the street.
The whole front row center was empty, so we sat there for like five seconds before we all exchanged glances and said, "Nah."
Carolyn: I'm not really a front row person.
Me: Unless it's Elvis.
We scuttled over to the left side and sat on the row behind this lone man. (Could have been a Tea Party Refugee). We settled in to wait on Anna Quindlen who ran late.
Marilyn: It's running late.
Me: Someone always needs to say that.
Carolyn: I'm glad we moved so we can make comments.
Me: Ask the guy in front of us if he reads her books.
Carolyn: You ask him. You're the blogger.
Me: Not that kind of blogger.
Eh, if he had been cute, I might have.
Behind me, I hear a woman ask her friend: "Will phenobarbital relax me?
I didn't turn around to see what she looked like.
The crowd was Buckhead, dressed in linens, high priced jeans and shoes, and one woman was wearing a turban.
Marilyn: I'd look good in that.
There were more men than usual, and Carolyn and I attributed it to her stint at a NYT columnist and her "Last Word" in Newsweek.
Me: Newsweek used to be such a good magazine, now it's pretty content free.
Carolyn: I like that.
Marilyn: Me too.
With a fifteen minute delay, Quindlen finally shows up and quips about how thankful she is that we braved the bumper to bumper traffic on Peachtree.
Me: Must be those tea partiers.
Dressed in black slacks, creamed colored blouse, and a three quarter length tweedish jacket, Quindlen opened with a famous writers's line: "Writing is easy, you just have to sit down at a typewriter and open a vein."
And from then on, Quindlen had her audience.
Articulate, witty, and intelligent, she interwove her writing experiences, her memorable book signings (where one four year old girl had her sign a copy of The Little Red Hen), her conversations with other writers, her family, her upbringing, as well as her favorite writers with a reading of a chapter from her current book, Every Last One.
She was terrific to listen to, and I was disappointed when she quit taking questions and went to sign books, a line that seemed much longer than the crowd at hand.
Some of the highlights:
- Her favorite writers: Dickens, Austen, Eliot, Wharton, and Faulkner.
- She also likes Don Delillo, Russell Banks, and Amy Bloom. She highly recommends a book by Ron Rush titled Serena.
- She added that she had recently chatted with the matriarch of an upstanding New York family who at 85 seemed in wonderful health to Quindlen who commented on it. The woman corrected her assumption with "Oh, but I can't read anymore." Quindlen concludes, "Thatwould be a funeral bell toll for me."
Her conclusions on writing:
- "I believe you can be taught to write but not be taught to write brilliantly. You have to be willing to be picked to pieces, and you have to learn to take that bleeding. It still hurts when I get back my manuscripts full of annotations. "
- "Sometimes [writing] is like going into a trance -- you come out of it and you have written -- it's unexplainble. You just fire on all cylinders -- you can't teach someone to fire on all cylinders."
- "Every sixteen year old wants to be a poet. Why? Because there is less of it."
- A novel on aging -- she wrote one when she was 30 called Life in the 30s -- now she's gonna write one to be published on her 60th birthday -- it will be called Where the Hell Did I Leave My Keys?
- "We ignored the Internet for ten years [we thought it was interesting concept that would never catch on]. Now we have to figure out how to make a living with our content on the Internet."
- "America now has the capacity to be better informed than ever before -- but they complain they dont' have the time. I say, if people have time to watch Dancing With the Stars, they have time to be informed. That is all about choice."
- "There is no death of the book. It will not be either/or even though our country sometimes is bi-polar that way. There were be two different versions of reading. Folks thought TV would replace radio -- we have both. Ten years ago, book publishers worried that audio books would hurt hard covers, and there was a policy that the audio book come out three years after the book was published. Now, they come out at the same time. There may be the lessening of the book, but we will still have the book."
Quindlen: Hmm. I might say Dickens, but no, I think Jane Austen. I would serve pizza. I'm pretty sure Jane Austen would not have had pizza before.
Carolyn, Kris, Marilyn, and I -- outside the Margaret Mitchell Literature Center.
* One comment about Taco Mac: Okay, I know it's a bar, but does it have to be so loud and so distracting? -- and why were men hanging out there like they were "skeered" to go home? Okay, I know there are like seventy- three televisions in there on ESPN and CNN -- but seriously, it was so....din. Din. Din. Din. One guy, tie loosened and hair in his eye, sipping a Blue Moon and watching the Braves, had his dry-cleaning over his arm which he carried about the bar -- occasionally the plastic would get the better of him and slide to the floor. Me: Yo, buddy? -- just hang it on your chair. Other scenes: a mowhawk (I mean, didn't those go out in the 80s?) -- and the guy sitting next to him looked like Eddie Vedder... and a whole table of guys -- all with their ball caps on backwards? Me: All of you? The place was packed with men [quite the menagerie] -- not that this is a bad thing -- but Gawd, it was so loud, I couldn't hear anything Marilyn, Kris, and eventually Carolyn, Marilyn's sister who met us there, said. Geez. Maybe men just don't need to be heard?
Thursday, April 15, 2010
In the novel, I Was Amelia Earhart, published in 1996, and written from two points of view, both first and third person, the reader both becomes Amelia and watches Amelia, as she and her navigator, Fred Noonan, attempt to circle the globe.
In the Acknowledgments, Mendelsohn tells that it [was] "inspired by the life of Amelia Earhart .. the characters and the events ... fictional."
Regardless, what Mendelsohn imagines that Earhart thought about, said, and did on that flight are not only interesting, but creative and fantastical, apparently based on what Menelsohn read about Earhart's personality and family background as well as that of her only other passenger, Noonan.
At one point in the novel before the flight takes off, Earhart and Noonan discuss aspects of their flight, and when Earhart says, "that's all, " Noonan then replies, "take me around the world. " His seemingly romantic response was anything but that -- Noonan was nervous, fidgety, but committed --- and knew that this opportunity would change his life... for the better. Earhart thinks, "we [both] must have ... known that we shared something, [perhaps] a secret craving for oblivion. But there is no such thing as oblivion. Oblivion is a lie."
The fictional conversations these two shared as they flew together, the weather they encountered, as well as the real meetings held with others on the ground as they refueled or stopped over were chronologically sound --- and Mendelsohn adheres to the history.
The power of this novel was the imaginative, and the way Mendelsohn chooses to present Amelia.
As reflective: "I was bolder than my mother would have liked. I insisted on running around in my bloomers. But my pluck and mettle delighted my father, an apprehensive man with a cowardly nature who liked to tinker with mechanical things and harbored delusions of intrepidity himself. He taught me how to take apart clocks.... and to drive like a professional."
"When she thinks of her father now, she sees him at the end of the day. The late afternoon, when the sun is setting, when it feels sad and beautiful, like the last day. When the sadness is too unbearable to think about."
"Planes used to be vehicles for dreaming. They were strong and curvaceous, manly and womanly at the same time, simple, almost old fashioned mechanical toys and vessels carrying the future. As soon as you saw a plane, you started dreaming. It was a thrill just to catch a glimpse of one. Back then, and its not that long ago, people in the world had never seen a plane, let alone been up in one."
As philosophical: "These were the days when she became reacquainted with herself, without hoping for anything except the satisfaction of knowing that she had explored an unknown sensation or feeling. It was as if what she had considered to be herself all of these years was only a magnified detail of an enormous painting whose entire composition and narrative she had never before known existed, let alone seen. And in this way she began to view the universe differently."
"With love comes the deepest fears of dying."
And, lastly, as poetic: "The sky, however wide and smeared with thick painterly clouds, now seems to her only one square inch of an infinite fresco of the world."
But this is only a smidgen of what Mendelsohn does with this intrusion into the world of American's favorite twentieth century heroine -- to tell you more would ruin the surprise of this novel.
We all know that Earhart disappeared over the Pacific Ocean on July 2, 1937. Well, I mean, we all know that Earhart disappeared on this flight.
Her disappearance remains one of the mysteries of the time. There is something about the disappearance of someone famous that inspires all of us to wonder -- "what happened? Did she crash and sink? Did she land on an island and live?"
This novel both intrigues and enlightens. :)
Monday, April 12, 2010
Over the years I have known them, they have both given me very readable history books --- and in the last two years, I have read two really good history books, given to me by Dr. Jim, and both of them were by Nathaniel Philbrick.
Last year, I read Philbrick's In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex -- the real sea story of a sperm whale attacking a whaling ship and on which Melville based his signature novel, Moby Dick.
I can hear the groans of my former students.
Please. No. Gillham. No Moby Dick.
I love Moby Dick. I think I am the only person I know other than Andrew Jones, Mary Hafner, and Tyler Williamson who has read that novel.
I'm not countin' one of my former students who pretended to read it and proceeded to tell me that Moby Dick was a blue whale.
Hello. Blue whale? What movie did he watch?
*waves to Evan B wherever you are*
I have never laughed so hard in my life ...
unless it was the time another student ask me if Gregory Peck was Abraham Lincoln (after seeing a black and white movie still photo in the American Literature textbook of Peck, complete with stovepipe hat, from Hollywood's Moby Dick.)
I laughed until my sides hurt, but not before I quipped to her that " Yes, Moby Dick was Lincoln's first movie before he was president."
I am totally off topic.
I just finished Sea of Glory, America's Voyage of Discovery: The U.S. Exploring Expedition 1838-1842.
Blog readers: Huh? What US Exploring Expedition?
That's what I said when Dr. Jim gave me the book -- I had never heard of it or the people involved, but the book turned out to be absolutely fascinating.
In the nineteenth century, six sailing vessels with a crew of hundreds that included geologists, mapmakers, biologists, and botanists, left New York city under the command of Charles Wilkes, nicknamed the Stormy Petrel, and sailed for the Pacific Ocean with an incredible goal -- to chart the Pacific Ocean from Antarctica to the Pacific Northwest.
Philbrick tells his reader about this lofty goal, especially in the 19th century: "Antarctica is the most inaccessible place on earth... and an entire vocabulary has been created to describe the appalling variety of icy hazards a navigator encounters when he approaches the continent."
Amazingly enough -- they accomplish this and much more --in spite of the less than sterling leadership of Wilkes -- who turned into a emotional barometer on the voyage -- he was nuts and petty, obsessed with the fact that he was not a "captain," and on whims would punish men whom he thought were trying to undermine him, almost all of which was unfounded.
Not only did Wilkes keep a journal, but so did officers under his command -- and their antipathy and anger at him, recorded for posterity, and an attempted court martial when the four year voyage was complete, showed how far they would all go for revenge.
After its return with its unbelievable collection that would contribute to a growing realization "that scientific pursuits such as geology, botany, anthropology, and meteorology were crucial to the progress of a nation," Washington began to pay for more exploration.
From 1840 to 1860, the federal government would subsidize fifteen naval expeditions --- at an enormous price. Philbrick writes, "Not even the race to the moon in the 1960s generated a financial commitment to science that rivaled the decades after the U.S. Ex. Ex."
The collections of the Ex. Ex., as it was called, became the foundation for the Smithsonian's scientific collection.
This contribution to America's scientific community seems huge -- why have I forgotten this in my own American history?
This book had it all -- complex characters, violence, intrigue, adventure, horror, and spectacle -- and it is history.
Dang. Who needs fiction?
Well, I do -- but I love non-fiction when it reads like fiction. :)
Saturday, April 10, 2010
Tallulah. Is. Awesome.
Keats is awesome too, but she is at that "whatever" stage. You know - -"whatever, I want, but I am not gonna entertain you" stage.
Last night, David and I were watching the end of the Masters.
Keats was taking in some hot air from the refrigerator, and Tallulah was somewhere in the back of the house.
All of a sudden, Tallulah, carrying her collar in her mouth, comes into the living room. She jumps on the ottoman and drops her collar in front of David.
Tallulah: Uh, Daddy? This came off. You need to put it on.
She sits on the ottoman and waits for David to put the collar on her.
Tallulah is a cat.
Cats don't do that.
Thursday, April 8, 2010
High heels. Two left arms. Shoddy tools?
Well, David bought a new grill, and instead of us putting it together, he asked Andrew, my nephew, if he would like to make a few bucks by assembling the grill for him.
Andrew likes putting things together.
Well, as a kid, he mostly liked taking things apart, but now, he likes putting things together.
When he was young, we'd give him broken toasters or adding machines to disassemble --- he'd go to the basement or his room and take the appliance or small electronic thingy apart piece by piece and then try to put them back together. Sometimes he was successful -- sometimes not so much.
At times, I would go in his room -- and the parts for some object would be all over his desk -- its innards splayed -- his tools beside it.
It was a good way to get rid of old, small non-working appliances.
Not. So. Appreciative.
David and Andrew determined that he would come over after class last night to assemble the grill.
He arrives about six. David and I are about to eat, so we leave him in the driveway with all of the parts of the grill spread around him -- plastic encased black things -- cylinder things wrapped in cardboard and taped down like state secrets -- as I like to say, "overpackaged" -- and little bitty shrinked wrap screws, nuts, and bolts adhered to cardboard -- it takes a machete to get the stuff unwrapped.
After dinner, I came out with a cocktail, parked myself in a plastic chair, and proceeded to watch Andrew put the grill together like it was entertainment.
At this point, Andrew has the cart with wheels that the grill sits on assembled and tightened down, and he's about to put on the grill body.
He looks at the directions.
He looks at the grill body.
He gives it a turn. He flips it. Examines it. In fact, he looks at it with puzzlement.
He picks up four lock washers and four 1/2 inch bolts and begins to secure them.
He checks out the catch pan.
Andrew: Hmmm. This says, "wheel side" on it -- if I put it on this way, then the grease tray will run into the front panel.
Me: *sips drink*
Andrew: No, that can't be.
Me: Looks like it you got something on backwards.
Andrew gives me a glare and then stares at directions again.
He takes off the catch pan. Flips it.
Andrew: Hmmm. I might have the front panel on the wrong side. It would be nice if something said right or left.
Me: Man. What a great night. I love this time of year. *sips drink*
Andrew: *stares at directions*
Me: Eh. Men write those directions; if a woman wrote it, it would say left or right.
Andrew: Not helpful.
Me: Just sayin'.
Andrew flips grill body. Holds up catch pan.
Me: What step are you on?
Andrew: Well, I was on six -- I now might be back to four.
Me: How many steps are there?
Andrew flips through directions: Nineteen.
Me: It'll be dark in a couple of hours.
Andrew glares at me.
Me: Let me see the directions. I love to read out loud.
Andrew: I'm gonna move the front panel and start over.
Me: Bwhaha. Step 19 says, "Tighten all bolts and nuts." What kind of step is that?
Andrew: Is there anything that you find not amusing?
So, I take the directions -- and with my brain power, and Andrew's brawn and flexibility -- I mean, sometimes, he had to crawl under the control panel to attach the valves to the burner and then do something kind of contortionist with the valve tips -- so, these things do need youth, but occasionally, just to have someone read the directions with you -- and read them out loud with a real Southern drawl is helpful too.
Me: "Insert the igniter wires, which are attached to the underside of each burner, through the same hole in the grill body that the burner goes through and then attach the wire to the backside of the electronic igniter, which is attached to the control panel."
Andrew looks at me.
Me: He used "attached" three times in that very long sentence. Looks like this writer could use a thesaurus as well as a little lesson on dependent and independent clauses.
Andrew rolls his eyes.
Me: What? And. He wrote this: --WRONG HOSE LOCATION -- but does not show or say RIGHT HOSE LOCATION. I wish I could written that kind of instruction at the top of student papers -- WRONG. WRONG. WRONG. But not tell them what is right. Egads.
Andrew: Can I see those a minute? I mean, if you are through with your speech.
At one time, Andrew and I got tickled big time when the gas chimney had a sticker adhered to it (note I didn't write attached) that read "If you can see this note, then you have this part on upside down."
Bwhahah. Maybe that writer does have a sense of humor.
Meanwhile, the ice melted in my drink, and outside the light grew dimmer.
At 8:15, Andrew finished the grill.
We read this in the manual:
Estimated Assembly Time: 45 Minutes.
Me: I'm gonna email these people and tell them, YOU LIE.
Andrew: It does say, "do not attempt assembly if you are missing parts."
Me: Bwhahahaha. Wait. Are you talking to me?
BTW: Hmmm. I wonder if I could write directions for a living.
*makes a note*
*flips back to Exodus*
BTW: Exodus. Good reading. Such drama!
I always counted down the days to spring break like it was a release from bondage --- a break from the five day a week sturm and drang of teaching, and when I waited for this particular week, I prayed for beautiful weather.
*twirls at sturm and drang*
Mostly, I prayed for the week to come, but a bonus was good weather... so many of my spring breaks were cold and rainy -- that unpredictable April weather that is so common here in Georgia. Many a time, David and I headed south -- only to shiver and wear sweatshirts and socks -- and that just doesn't scream --- spring.
But this week, and a lot of the world around me spring break, I awoke to beautiful weather -- gorgeous sunrises and weather that didn't resemble the typical weather when I worked and looked so forward to this week.
I looked out at that!
BTW: I've been on "break" all year.
This year, David wanted to go to the mountains during the school's spring break week because "work is slow since everyone is out of town."
I love the way he says, "everyone." It shows he doesn't go to Publix. There are still plenty of people in town. He also doesn't get out enough on Barrett Parkway.
We went to our mountain house and spent five days there --- the weather was heavenly, and when we first arrived, the trees were bursting to show green, but hadn't.
Just so you know, when we go to the mountains, it's not all fun and games -- you know bear watching, great breezes, or sitting on the mountain and looking out at our land and thinking, "damn. Our land. Our guns. Our fences. Our deer. Our turkey buzzards. Our mountain. Our view. Our neighbor with fourteen rusted out cars and three trailers and four barking dogs. Our peace and quiet."
Meals still have to be cooked, laundry has to be done, and well, Tallulah and Keats have to be kept from falling from the second level. It's not all leisure and mountain air.
This time, David worked even more than usual. He's a yard man, and he loves getting in the acreage and pulling brush pines up, weeding, mowing, and doing all that kind of back breaking work.
I actually like to walk the acreage and stare at the beauty, but he likes to work.
We're a pair made in heaven.
I'm serious. We're companionable. We work. We do.
I also like to sit on the porch and read. I don't have Internet at our house --- so I get tons of time up there not to be distracted by Yahoo News or my General Hospital message board.
Man. What is this blog about?
*looks at title of blog*
Oh yeah. Spring.
As we spent the five day at the mountain house, the warm weather just encouraged all of those leaves and blossoms that were waiting to show their finery to pop out.
When we arrived there on Saturday, the daffodils and forsythia were blooming -- but most of the hard woods were still at the first advent of green... they were holding back -- but by the time we left on Wednesday, the green leaves of the hard woods were feathering out and strutting their stuff.
The crab apple tree whooshed pink -- its blooms shimmering in the early morning.
Would you look at that?
Oh my goodness.
God made that. He did.
It's on my land. My Land.
Someone has got to pull out those weeds.
ETA: David and this dog, Leo, who doesn't belong to us, start out for their early morning walk in the mountains.
Friday, April 2, 2010
There is no doubt that Bill Bryson is a funny dude. His Walk in the Woods' work, part travel book, part memoir, part "hug a tree," and part history, has sections that made me laugh out loud. In this autobiographical piece, Bill and his childhood friend hike the Appalachian trail together and meet all kinds of people, mostly good, but some he and his buddy met were -- well, they were weirder than crop circles. He did a great job balancing the humor with the historical and more serious aspects of the work.
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid immortalizes Bryson's 1950s upbringing in Des Moines, Iowa, son of two newspapermen -- his father a sports writer, his mother, a feature editor.
Born in 1951, Bryson uses this year as his starting place, but rewinds to times before his birth, as well as fast forwarding it to the 1960s.
As he introduces his memoir, he humorously relates, "My kid days were pretty good ones, on the whole. My parents were patient and kind and approximately normal. They didn't chain me in the cellar. They didn't call me "It." I was born a boy and allowed to stay that way. My mother, as you'll see, sent me to school once in Capri pants, but otherwise there was little trauma in my upbringing."
The third of three, Bryson hardly mentions his siblings but details his parents, his neighbors, his teachers, and his friends in this riotous recreation of what it was like to grow up in the 1950s. He calls it a simpler time, and he pays a great deal of attention to making sure that he maintains that premise, even while mentioning that at times when America should have been frightened, like the Bay of Pigs, a kid like him was not. That is -- the beauty of an innocent childhood.
Bryson reiterates that innocence over and over.... and he believed that 1959 was a changing year.
At his best in this memoir is his writing about his friends and their families. One such family err on the side of boring; he tells his mother that he can't believe that she arranged for him to agree to a sleepover: "On the one previous occasion on which I had experienced their hospitality, a slumber party of which it turned out I was the only guest, or possibly the only invitee who showed up, Mrs. Milton had made me -- I'll just repeat that: made me - eat chipped beef on toast, a dish closely modeled on vomit, and then sent us to bed at 8:30 after Milton passed out [yes, his name was Milton Milton] halfway through I Got a Secret, exhausted after sixteen hours of pretending to be a steam shovel."
LOL -- this is Bryson's forte -- he takes the childhood experience, and ones like these are almost universal, and turns them into hilarious, and of course, exaggerated experiences.
Mixed in with his childhood memories are facts about the time: "In 1951, Harry Truman was president, but would shortly make way for Dwight D. Eisenhower. The war in Korea was in full swing and not going well. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg had just been convicted of spying for the Soviet Union, but would sit in prison for two years more before being taken to the electric chair. In Topeka, Kansas, a mild-mannered...."
Even though he peppered his memoirs with facts like that, he also colors it with his modern day disdain for the Republican party and George W. Bush. I would come across this passages and think, "Just shut up and write."
I like Bryson, but occasionally, his smug pontificating borders on my imagining him imagining his readers nodding at how smart he was to drag in his current political views, but to me, his smirking, sanctimonious comments about the current political climate are arrogance, and perhaps out of place?
Call me "not in the mood."
Bryson is funny -- at times uproariously so -- especially when he so aptly put his childhood spin on it -- his passages about comic books, his relatives, laying out of school, his friends are slap the knees hilarious -- but when he starts being condescending, not so much.
This is a book for baby boomers ---- even with the agenda -- for Bryson reminds us all that "childhood passes quickly -- but ... adult hood .... is over in a twinkling."